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Tonight at 8pm, BBC’s File on 4 will explore the challenges faced by families at inquests, paying close attention to the lack of access to legal aid. The radio program has been informed that out of more than 600 requests for legal aid at inquests last year, almost half of these applications were refused.
The Charity INQUEST describes the current system in which families either have to represent themselves or pay large sums of money for a lawyer, as a ‘profound, yet unnecessary, injustice’. Even those eligible for legal aid funding often have to cover some costs themselves due to the funds apportioned not being sufficient. This campaign follows the Ministry of Justice’s review in February 2019, which rejected the call for widespread change in the legal aid system. INQUEST are therefore calling for automatic, non means tested legal aid funding to families for specialist legal representation immediately following a state related death to cover preparation and representation at inquest. They are also calling for funding equivalent to that enjoyed by state, public and corporate bodies, who have the means to fund legal representation.
Although the government state that lawyers are not necessary at inquests due it being a neutral fact-finding exercise, institutions involved with the events of the death always arrive with legal representation. There is therefore a common misconception that lawyers are not necessary at inquests due to the fact that inquests are not a blame apportionment exercise. There is therefore a strong disparity between the parties involved, as families are often forced to represent themselves, adding to the stressful grief that they are already suffering from following the death of a loved one.
INQUEST describes how the lack of funding available undermines the ‘preventative potential of inquests’. Those families who cannot afford legal representation therefore become burdened by having to investigate their family member’s case. This can therefore lead to gaps in the inquest, as those who are not legal professionals lack the experience to ask the questions which might afford them the most meaningful answers surrounding the death of their loved one. In addition to this, families are having to type their own notes during the inquest to avoid paying a large sum for the transcript at conclusion of the inquest.
Ramsdens Solicitors are specialist inquest solicitors supporting families through the process. Inquests are held by a coroner where the death has occurred suddenly and is unexplained. Our team will advise on all funding options for the inquest hearing. We will always work out the best option to suit the circumstances and offer compassion and support during traumatic times.
For a confidential discussion please contact our inquest solicitors for support on 0113 887 1834 or text LAW to 67777. Alternatively, you can make an enquiry using our online enquiry form and we will be in touch when it is convenient for you.